Circuit Training

Circuit Training 122: Natalie Palamides and the Fate of Nate interview

Natalie Palamides

Time zones can be awkward, in the era of increasingly-easy international conversation. Take the chat below, in which a caffeine-fuelled late-in-the-day Circuit Training called the brilliant Natalie Palamides at 9.30am in Los Angeles. That's not a comfortable hour for anyone to contemplate big topics. Comedy people are rarely morning people.

Anyway, we soon hit a groove, and delved deep into her two remarkable shows: last year's Edinburgh Fringe Best Newcomer winner, the egg-laden Laid. And this year's extraordinary Nate, which arrives at the Soho Theatre for a two-week run from November 13th (Soho having helped launch Laid in the UK, too).

Palamides achieves an extraordinary balance with Nate, marrying the highest comedy with the heaviest of concepts, all built on the exploits of the eponymous hero. Or is that anti-hero? Villain, even? It's probably the most remarkable comedy your correspondent saw at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, and raises some big, relevant questions.

We had some smaller, lighter queries too. How intense is her director, Phil 'Dr Brown' Burgers? Who does Palamides play in Bob's Burgers? And why does her dad prefer Sausage Party? It's a meaty chat. But first: eggs.

Natalie Palamides

What made you do the Edinburgh Fringe last year, for the first time?

I actually didn't really know about it, very much. One of our friends came to see a workshop of Laid and was like 'you should do the Fringe!' So Dr Brown... are you familiar with him?

I was once at a show where he was practically naked and clambered all over the audience, so I'm probably more familiar than, um...

...than you'd like to be, yeah. He's really great. He said 'Are you sure? The Fringe is really intense. Is this the show?' And I was like 'This is the one.'

Did you expect it to do as well as it did? A lot of great shows get missed.

I was really lucky to have Phil's stamp of approval, and also the Soho Theatre backing the show, who Phil introduced me to. That really helped. Some people probably don't have it as smooth heading to Edinburgh for the first time as I did, so I feel really lucky.

How did you find it, doing three weeks of shows?

I had never done anything like that before, I've done a week at the most, so it was pretty intense. But I really liked it, because whenever I screwed up, I didn't have to wait to the next weekend to try it again, I had the next day.

I was chatting to Kate Berlant just as she arrived in Edinburgh...

I love Kate Berlant!

It was her first Fringe and we concluded that, whatever happens, you'll come out as a better performer.

Yeah, exactly, you're getting your 10,000 hours in, that's for sure.

Then you came straight back this year with another ambitious show - a lot of acts leave a year in between.

Yeah, it was quite intense. I started workshopping Nate in the December of 2016 - woah, what year is it? 2017! Oh my god. Ok.

I had this character that I had developed in another workshop about six years ago. Phil owns the Lyric Hyperion Theatre in Silverlake and puts on a show there called The Incubator. He challenges performers to create a new 10-minute piece over the course of a week, and he encourages us to keep in mind that the piece should feel risky. So I wanted to wrestle.

Natalie Palamides


That felt risky to me, and it's something I'd never done - which character could I do this with? Nate came to mind. I did a ten-minute piece and it went so well, that I told Phil 'I wanna do Nate for a full hour.' And so at first I was exploring masculinity, and what it meant to be a man in 2017, 2018.

I interviewed Phil years ago and he's very serious about comedy - is he a tough taskmaster?

Oh yeah, he's an amazing director and collaborator, he's always pushing to make everything better, he doesn't let you sit in mediocrity at all. And he's always looking to subvert and not go with stereotypical clich├ęs and tropes - he's always pushing me to be a better artist. He doesn't let you slip, he's really hard on you, which is good.

Nate is a really likeable character, so it's fascinating when he asks the audience how they feel about his actions during the show. The responses varied massively the night I was there.

The mixed response is extremely common, it's really rare that I have the audience unanimous. Although I do find that whenever the audience answers unanimously, one way or the other, l have people coming up after the show or messaging me saying 'I wanted to say this but I felt too much social pressure.' But that's also part of the experience.

When I saw it, you were talking to an Irish woman and her Spanish boyfriend, and she translated for him...

Oh my god, that was a great show!

He ended up in a mess.

Yeah, I accidentally spilled some cornflour on him, that wasn't meant to happen - he did end up in a mess. Sometimes life doesn't go quite the way you want it to.

It made me think about consent in comedy too, that idea that the front row is fair game - was that all part of the overall theme?

It's unavoidable, I don't think I had this plan to be 'oh then people will notice that consent also happens in audience participation,' but it is another way to explore the metaphor of the subject matter. Especially when it comes to the wrestling. It's pretty on the nose.

Natalie Palamides

There's so much groupthink nowadays, it's interesting to see an audience come away from a show confused about whether the main character's actions were ok.

It highlights the grey area. I do give people [from the audience] the opportunity to speak in the show, but often I get crickets, or a one-word answer, and I have to pull it out of people. Because it's something people are afraid to talk about face to face. But we'll only see improvements when we're not afraid to talk about it, face to face.

I bet a lot of people have written about the theme and not mentioned how entertaining the show is.

Yeah, it's really funny - I'm trying to make people laugh.

It was spectacular in Edinburgh. How will you get it onto smaller stages?

It is tricky to tour. I don't know, I think the Soho Theatre show will still be flashy and fun, they've got all the bells and whistles there.

Was Laid ever recorded, or has it gone now?

It has been filmed, the filmed version isn't my favourite show that I've ever done, but it's still fun, I think. I'm not sure when I'll do it again: Laid is very messy, but it's a little bit easier to tour - the props are smaller.

Voice acting must be a nice change of pace - who have you played in Bob's Burgers?

I think the most notable character is the captain of an opposing soccer team that Louise plays against. That episode is called The Hurt Soccer.

And you still voice one of the Powerpuff Girls? That sounds top fun.

Yeah, I'm really lucky, they give me the financial freedom to create these [live] shows. Without voice acting I wouldn't have... well, I'd probably figure out a way to do it. It definitely makes me more relaxed about it, I can really focus on my art.

Natalie Palamides

What did you want to be originally then: an actor, comedian, artist?

All of the above. Comedian, since I was a kid - I always knew it would be characters. I tried doing stand-up and was really terrible - not that you should give up if you're terrible, but I just knew it wasn't my avenue. In university I did clowning and devised theatre: that's how I create my shows now, by putting it up on its feet, not sitting down and writing it - it's a more active way to create.

But yeah, as a kid I was always class clown, at 10 or 11 my aunt asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up and I said "comedian." She said "don't you want to do something that helps people? - doctor, teacher?" and I said "laughing helps people" and she said "that's right."

So I knew for a while that I wanted to do this. Maybe I didn't know how weird I would be. No, I've always been really weird. It probably comes as a surprise to my parents.

What do they make of your stuff?

They, I think, would love my comedy if it wasn't me who was making it. They love the movie Sausage Party, and think it's hilarious that hot dogs are penises and buns are like vaginas. Then when they watched Laid they were disgusted, because I was being so un-ladylike, my mum said.

Then my dad, he saw all the promotional materials for Nate, and said "Nat, why do you have to... I know you like hot dogs, but why are all your comedy bits about weiners?" And I said "same reason you like Sausage Party." He doesn't like dick jokes when I do them, because I'm his daughter. But if someone else is doing them, that's hilarious.

So is that understandable? Or an old-fashioned way of looking at female performers?

Ahhh, they're old fashioned, I think, but I guess I'm their daughter. They're not allowed to see Nate. Although they keep asking. 'You won't like it, let's save the despair.'

Image shows from L to R: Natalie Palamides, Phil Burgers

Didn't Dr Brown perform a version of Nate?

It's a tradition now, in our second year working together, that he plays my part in my solo show. So when we did Laid, after Edinburgh he did Laid for one night, playing my part while I live-directed him. And we did the same for Nate.

You should bring that version over for a Fringe run next year - switch it every year.

I love having him do it, because then he can finally see some of the stuff that he's getting on my arse about. There's this part where I kick off my boots - they're pretty hard to kick off, so every show he would warn me, 'don't kick them anywhere near the audience, you don't want to hit someone,' understandably. But then in his show, when he played Nate, he kicked the boot right at some girl's head, and just got her hair, luckily. 'You tell me every show...!' But it's fun.

Will you use that character again, after this run?

I think I might try to do a short film with Nate.

Have you pitched stuff with him?

Yep, that's in the works right now, I don't have any news yet but we're working on something. And I might do Laid in New York next year.

I wrote Laid as a short film but I'm not sure if it quite works, it's too long, too short for a feature, I'll have to work on that. But Nate I think is a really good vehicle to bring to the screen.

He feels like he's fully formed already, and wandering around out there

That's exactly right. I'm gonna bring you to all my pitches.

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